A few months ago, a video of a man shooting a horse in the head—done to spite animal rights activists—drew fiery condemnation. The video served as a rallying cry for anti-horse slaughter activists because the shooter was an employee of a horse processing plant that is attempting to open, though he was acting in a private capacity. (Here’s a non-graphic news report covering the issue.) What’s striking is the callous attitude toward the animal.
Strange as it may seem, that same callousness could be ascribed for Humane Society of the United States CEO Wayne Pacelle.
In a recent debate on Iowa Public Radio, Pacelle argued against horse slaughter by saying that horses could simply be euthanized—killed with chemicals or a bullet—instead of used for food. Unfortunately, Pacelle dodged his group’s responsibility and didn’t address the real issue: Shouldn’t Pacelle and his “Humane Society” be doing more to help unwanted horses? Let us explain.
HSUS supported a law that effectively outlawed horse slaughter in the United States by stopping funding for USDA inspections. Now, more than 150,000 unwanted horses are being sent to Canada and Mexico to be processed for food. HSUS doesn’t want them processed here under USDA inspection, and also doesn’t want them sent to Canada and Mexico. Horse sanctuaries can’t keep up with the demand, so it’s no surprise that there’s been an uptick in abandonment, according to a Government Accountability Office report. So the question is: If the horses aren’t sent to be processed for food, where are those animals going to go?
Pacelle dodges a direct answer, instead offering platitudes that it’s up to the owners of horses to provide lifetime care. That’s just unrealistic. No one has a crystal ball. Sometimes people fall on hard times. Sometimes people move to a new job. There are many reasons someone could have for getting rid of their horse. But Pacelle says that for those who can’t, they can turn them over to one of the hundreds of sanctuaries or rescues in the US. The only problem? Horse sanctuaries are already at or near capacity. And their total capacity is just 13,400 animals nationwide. Compare that to the 150,000-plus animals sent to Canada and Mexico every year.
Pacelle’s other suggestion? Killing an animal, by shooting it in the head, for example, is an acceptable solution. “We’re not saying that animals have to live indefinitely or that you have to make a heroic effort to extend the life of every animal,” Pacelle explained.
The American Veterinary Medical Association says that shooting a horse in the head is an acceptable way to euthanize the animal if done by a trained person. (Chemical euthanasia is another option.) Our problem isn’t with the shooting. Our problem is with Wayne Pacelle’s attitude.
Just as the horse owner in the video flippantly shot a horse in the head, Wayne seems to think that horse owners who have fallen on hard times can just give their animal to a rescue (currently an unlikely prospect) or just shoot it in the head.
In Wayne’s world, it’s up to the owners to pay for the expensive option of disposal of a horse carcass. What other options do they have? HSUS doesn’t want them to be paid by a processing company for their unwanted animal. And HSUS apparently isn’t willing to build more sanctuaries as an outlet for unwanted animals. Meanwhile, HSUS gives almost nothing to horse sanctuaries, according to its tax return. Yet HSUS is sitting on $200 million in assets. It could easily build more horse sanctuaries to provide a long-term outlet for some animals. Or if killing the animal is an OK option, will HSUS start a euthanasia and burial fund? (The AVMA—some actual animal experts—notes, however, that euthanizing a large number of horses presents significant problems.)
Whatever your position on horse slaughter, everyone should want a fate for horses better than abandonment and starvation. Yet Wayne Pacelle apparently thinks it’s up to everybody else to do something. Pacelle wants to take options away and create more stress in the horse world. The least he could offer in return are some real solutions.